When Life Changes and Language Doesn’t

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by Rabbi Eli D. Clark

Rabbi Eli D. Clark lives in Bet Shemesh, Israel. He served as Halakha editor of the Koren Sacks Siddur and also practices international tax law.

When physical circumstances change, the applicable halakhic rules often change as well. Many basic aspects of daily life (clothing, food, hygiene, commerce, transportation) have changed dramatically since the time of the Mishna, and these changes are often reflected in Halakha.

Sometimes, however, the reality of change is obscured by the language we use. Halakhic texts continue to use words and phrases over centuries or millennia, even though the objects described have changed over time. The question is whether the applicable halakha should also change. A few examples:


A recent R. Enkin post on sefarim elicited a comment on the change from manuscripts to printed books. To expand the point, the word “sefer” in halakhic literature originally referred to a scroll; later the term meant a bound codex, the pages of which were made of papyrus, parchment or vellum. Then came the printed book and, more recently, offset printing. These developments drastically altered what a sefer looks like, how much text it contains and the cost of producing and acquiring it. But are these changes halakhically significant?

Generally, no. Halakha attributes sanctity to books based on content, not form. Rules expressing respect for a sefer Torah or tefillin were applied to sefarim generally and later to printed books (see Orah Hayyim 240:6 and Mishna Berura 40:4). Only occasionally did the halakhic rules grow more lenient. For example:

The Rema (Orah Hayyim 14:4) prohibits learning from someone else’s sefer without permission, “because we are concerned that he may tear it during his learning.” The Mishna Berura (14:16) in the name of the Peri Megadim notes (disapprovingly) the “universal” practice of using someone else’s siddur or mahzor found in shul. About 100 years after the Peri Megadim, the Arukh ha-Shulhan (Orah Hayyim 14:13) approves this borrowing, because “most people don’t mind,” and seems also to approve the practice of borrowing a sefer without permission for casual use (le-ayen be-alma).

In a historicist vein, the Hatam Sofer (Orah Hayyim no. 2) explains that the rule against copying another person’s book received as a pikadon related to “those days, when there was no printing and books were copied by hand, the more the books were available and copied and proofread, the books were of diminished value; hence, as a result of copying even one letter from another’s book to proofread a different book based on that letter, one diminishes the value of the pikadon.” By implication, this consideration no longer applies in the age of the printed book.


The Mishnah in Shabbat (22:6) provides: “Lo mit`amlin,” which sounds to modern ears like: “One may not exercise.”

The Rishonim understand the rule differently. Rashi explains that mit`amlin refers to a vigorous massage with oil whose purpose is medical, rather than recreational.[1] In contrast, R. Hananel explains mit`amlin as another person forcibly flexing one’s limbs in order to cause perspiration.[2] This is also Rambam’s view (Hilchot Shabbat 21:28): “What is one who is mit`amel? When they press on his body forcefully in order that he exert himself (yage`a) and perspire; for it is forbidden that a person exert himself in order to perspire on the Sabbath, as it represents medical treatment (refuah).”

The Shulhan Arukh (Orah Hayyim 328:42), as usual, follows Rambam. Later authorities agree that the prohibition relates to a person who exerts himself to enjoy the medical benefits of perspiration; the concern is that, if one engages in exercise to perspire, one may use a drug to perspire.[3]

Today exercise is pursued more as a pastime than a medical treatment. Even those who exercise to improve their health are not seeking the benefits of perspiration. Yet, most contemporary authorities forbid exercising on Shabbat based on this Mishna.[4] This despite the recognized exception for a physical activity that one pursues for pleasure (see Shulhan Arukh, Orah Hayyim 301:2). The question is: has the nature of exercise changed sufficiently to make it permissible on Shabbat?

Yes. According to Shemirat Shabbat Ke-Hilkhatah (16:39 note 99): “If one derives enjoyment from exercise, one can say that it is permitted. So I heard from R. Shlomo Zalman Auerbach shlita.” R. Ovadya Yosef (Yalkut Yosef, Shabbat, vol. II, 301:8) states that exercise is prohibited on Shabbat, but then adds in a footnote that it is permissible me-ikar ha-din, if one’s intent is not to perspire.


The halakhic term for bathroom is “bet ha-kisei.” Historically, the term bet ha-kisei referred to an outhouse. In Western society, the outhouse has generally been replaced by a modern bathroom with a flushing toilet. Does this change have halakhic significance? Yes.

One is forbidden from performing religious activities in a bet ha-kisei or even near one. Even walking into a bet ha-kisei requires washing one’s hands afterwards (see Shulhan Arukh, Orah Hayyim 4:18). But these rules do not apply to a so-called “Persian bet ha-kisei,” where the waste falls away immediately and there is no foul odor (Berakhot 26a; Shulhan Arukh, Orah Hayyim 83:4).

Regarding modern bathrooms, R. Aharon Walkin (Zekan Aharon, Vol. I, no. 1) rules that they resemble the “Persian bet ha-kisei.” Hence, one is not required to wash hands upon exiting a bathroom, provided one did not use the toilet; further, “it may be that one is permitted to recite [the Shema] there.” R. Aryeh Zvi Fromer (Eretz Zvi, nos. 110, 111) also holds that entering a bathroom does not require hand-washing. He recoils from the conclusion that one can recite Shema in a bathroom, although he seems to permit doing so in a restroom on a train.

R. Yitzhak Yaakov Weiss (Minhat Yitzhak, Vol. 1, no. 60) concurs that hand-washing is not required upon exiting a bathroom, provided there is no alternative. R. Yosef Eliyahu Henkin (Edut Le-Yisrael, Halakha Section, p. 113.) goes further and permits one to wash hands in a bathroom before eating or before prayer, but not to recite Shema there. R. Moshe Feinstein (Iggerot Moshe, Vol. III, Even ha-Ezer 1:114.) rules that one may wash hands in a bathroom before prayer, if there is no place else to wash, provided one dries his or her hands outside the bathroom. Similarly, R. Ovadya Yosef (Yehavveh Da`at, Vol. III, no. 1) rules that one may wash for food in a bathroom, but only in a case of emergency (sha`at ha-dehak).

The only major dissenting voice is that of R. Ovadya Hadaya (Yaskil Avdi, Vol. VI, Orah Hayyim, no. 13), who utterly rejects the conclusion that a modern bathroom differs from an outhouse.[6]

In sum, although the relevant terminology has not changed, contemporary halakhic authorities generally agree that modern exercise and modern bathrooms do not have the same status as their ancient counterparts, but modern books do have the same status as medieval manuscripts and papyrus scrolls.

Can anyone suggest additional examples of this phenomenon?

[1] Perhaps related to anatripsis, a Greek term which means “rubbing” and refers to therapeutic massage.
[2] Diaphoresis, or sweating, was one of the hygienic purification methods of Greek medicine.
[3] Turei Zahav Magen David 328:8; Mishna Berura 328:130.
[4] Melamed L’Hoil 1:53; Tzitz Eliezer 6:4; and Yesodei Yeshurun 4:297-299.
[5] See Ari Z. Zivotofsky, “‘Your Camp Shall Be Holy’: Halacha and Modern Plumbing,” Journal of Halacha and Contemporary Society, No. XXIX (Spring 1995).
[6] R. Hadaya’s ruling seems based on different facts, as he emphasizes that, in some cases, the flushing does not wash away all of the waste and, “in most cases,” the toilet is not flushed after urinating, “in order to save a bit of the cost of the water which costs money.”

About Eli Clark


  1. Shalom Rosenfeld

    Many Rishonim on Eilu Ovrin warning the readers that our notion of “beer” is all grain; the Mishna and Gemara were discussing a beer that was either grain-free, or only mildly “chametzdik.”

  2. A good start to socializing a very big issue. One of the wonderful aspects to Jewish learning is that we bend time reading across the generations. But, this is also a danger and it’s not just a matter of vocabulary, but of context.

    Le’havdil, it’s like having to remember the tomato was not introduced into Italy until the 16th century and Pasta in the 12th or 13th centuries — despite that we automatically associate Italian cooking with both.

    When we speak of almost all aspects of quotidian living prior to the late 19th century, we are almost certainly guilty of anachronism if we don’t carefully unpack the assumptions being made.

  3. Chazal wrote that the golel receives the reward of all the olim to the Torah. IIRC, modern poskim say that the modern golel is the magbiah (for Ashkenazim), not what we call the golel. I surmise that in the times of Chazal, they followed the current practice of the Sephardim and did hagbaah before reading from the Torah, not after, so the golel the person who literally rolled up the sefer at the end of the reading. This would also indicate that they did not have hard, Sephardi Torah cases, as these do really require any rolling.

  4. There are many other examples. All matters of hilchot brachot that depend on whether something is “part of the meal” are very dependent on the relationship between bread and the other dishes. In our time that relationship is different but most assume the halacha has not changed. By contrast, the relationship of dessert and the rest of the meal seems to also change in each society, and on this there are varying halachic opinions. The same goes for our basic understanding of nutrition – people consider fruit to be nutritional today, and cake to be un-nutritional, which would dictate that cake in a meal warrants a separate blessing while fruit does not.

  5. An issue of language right in your post: when you say “bathroom”, do you mean a room with a bath or a shower to the exclusion of a toilet or do you use it as a euphemism for toilet?

  6. re: bathroom – does the change of its status effect wearing a tallit gadol into a bathroom? see r’enkin previous post.

  7. To Anonymous:
    When I write “bathroom,” I use it as a euphemism for toilet. I thought that was clear from the context. A room with a bath or shower I would call a “washroom.”

    To Ruvie:
    I think a strong argument could be made for wearing a tallit gadol in a bathroom, as well as for making a berakha there, as long as (a) no one is using the toilet at the time and (b) the toilet has been properly flushed, etc.

  8. Michael Feldstein

    You’ve compared a sefer torah or scroll to a printed book, and have stated that generally speaking because the content is the same, the same halachot apply, even though the form is different. What about comparing a printed sefer to an e-version of that sefer? Could you make the same leap? And what “item” would the rules about seforim apply to…your Kindle? Seems like a stretch to me, but halachically why would it be different?

  9. Michael:
    The general approach of contemporary posekim is to distinguish between written and printed texts — in whatever form — and the digital representation of words on a screen. Without getting into the physics of LCDs, when you look at a screen you see an image of words created by a series of pixels, but the words aren’t “there” in a physical sense. Halakhically, then, there is no text and therefore no kedusha. Hence, for example, there is no prohibition on erasing shem Hashem from a computer screen.

    Similarly, if you have a Torah text stored on a Kindle or cell phone, you can take it into a bet ha-kisei, because the information is stored in the form of bits and bytes, not as a written or printed text. By the same token, you would not have to put an old Kindle or cell phone in geniza.

  10. lice,worms in fish, daas torah?

    on a more serious note – how about peah nachrit?

  11. “there is no prohibition on erasing shem Hashem from a computer screen.”

    iirc, in a discussion here a while back re. using ebooks on shabbat, someone claimed that computer screens work differently than kindle screens. the latter use a form of “digital ink” and is not merely a conglomerate of pixels producing words “that arent’t really there”

  12. “I surmise that in the times of Chazal, they followed the current practice of the Sephardim and did hagbaah before reading from the Torah”

    probably pre-chazal as well, as per sefer ezra-nehemiah. there it describes how ezra opened the torah for all to see before leining on sukkot

  13. The definition of sefer is fraught with issues as previously discussed. I agree on content (rather that form), but some also see context as a defining issue — e.g. does the author believe in Rambam’s 13 Ikarim.

    To me, the more interesting and practical question down that track is Shamot/Geniza in the modern context of cheap paper printing and reproduction. If I recall R. Enkin mentioned he was working on such a posting.

  14. Abba:

    The Kindle technology is proprietary, but the basic science is the same. From http://www.technologyreview.com/Infotech/20218/:

    The Kindle’s 600-by-800-pixel, 167-pixels-per-inch screen uses a display technology made by E Ink of Cambridge, MA. At the front of the screen is a layer of transparent electrodes. Below it are millions of microcapsules containing positively charged white particles and negatively charged black particles, and below them is a layer of nearly a million more electrodes. A negative charge on one of these bottom electrodes pushes black particles to the top, and a positive charge does the same with the white ones. Each microcapsule acts as a pixel that can thus be made to appear black, white, or gray.

  15. Is a laser printed learning handout with sources from Mikrah and Talmud a Sefer from a halachic perspective?

  16. As much as a torn-out page from a bound Humash or Gemara.

  17. Here’s another: What “seuda shlishit” meant in a time when people had two meals.

  18. Chesky Salomon

    @HaDarda”i re gelila: I think it more likely that the gelila the gemara refers to is something like the Chabad minhag for hagbaah: the magbiah puts the sefer torah back down on the bimah and rolls it up, and the “golel” simply ties the belt (in the *lower* half of the sefer) and puts on the mantle.

    @Anonymous et al. re “bathroom” vs “toilet”: The word “toilet” is itself a euphemism.

    @Aharon re berachos & cake: Cake is *very* nutritious; so much so, it’s considered unhealthy to eat too much of it.

  19. I do not think that “seuda shelishit” has changed much. In Talmudic times, the first meal eaten on Friday night corresponded to the “second” meal of the day. Then two additional meals were eaten on Shabbat day. If there was a change, it was perhaps that seuda shelishit began before nightfall, whereas the second meal of the day was usually eaten later (as suggested by the first Mishna in Berkhot and the baraitot cited in the Gemeara thereon.

  20. Why Is a laser printed learning handout with sources from Mikrah and Talmud not a complete Sefer, rather than like a a torn-out page from a bound Humash or Gemara?

    If it were published between hard covers, would it be a Sefer?

    [I don’t mean to get us down a particular alley in this thread, just using it as an example of the complexity of the subject. Replacing one set of bad assumptions with another, is not progress from my perspective.]

  21. Nachum and Eli D. Clark,

    Ironically, I think the specialness of seudah shlishis is actually better (or at least equally) preserved nowadays, at least in America where lunch during the ymei chol is generally not a big meal (if it’s even a “meal” at all).

  22. (Anonymous with bathroom was me.)

    Indeed, toilet is itself an euphemism, I would even say I can’t find the “proper” word for it in any language: I can only think of either euphemisms or crude, argotic words.
    But euphemisms notwithstanting, it would help a lot to use unambiguous words. “Bathroom” means “toilet” in the U.S. only, and even there, the more formal “restroom” may seem preferable; “washroom” is equally equivocal – it can even mean “laundry room”. A toilet can only mean a toilet…

  23. “Ein Simcha Eleh B’Bassar V’Yayin” comes to mind. We now know that fish and plenty of dairy food can be considered fancy and impart simcha. This debate re-surfaces every Shavuos.

  24. OK, I see you didn’t like my last try 🙂

    how about glass (zchuchit) as mentioned by tosfot brachot 31a which I assume was always relatively expensive in those days, so can you break a 99 cents glass at a wedding and be yotzeh the minhag? (there is sh”ut literature on this)

  25. Let’s just make some order. My original post focused on changes in physical circumstances that are hidden by language. many of the examples cited above are of a different nature:

    1. There are changes that are essentially economic in nature, such as Joel Rich’s example. I would expand the point and argue that the definition of Hefsed Merubbeh is much higher today because our community is collectively wealthier.

    2. There are changes that are cultural (or socio-cultural). This would include food questions: how many meals we eat and what kind of foods we consider to have importance. This would also affect the definition of hamra de-medina and what is oleh al shulhan melakhim. This would also include questions of dress, such as whether going barefoot in shul shows respect or disrespect and the definition of kelei gever and kelei isha.

    3. Social changes: attitudes toward polygamy and slavery, the social status of women, postponement of marriage, and attitudes toward homosexuals.

    4. Political changes: the shift to liberal democratic societies.

    5. Inter-Religious changes: the advent of ecumenicism.

  26. One example of having a generic name cover “new” materials with different halachic properties is the term “kli matechet” (metal vessels). In the times of the Rema, such vessels were cast (iron or bronze). As such, they were prone (particularly cast iron) to have a rough surface and cracks. In consequence, the Rema ruled that such vessels may absorb foodstuffs throughout their volume. Hence, if that foodstuff was treif, it would require an unrealistic volume 60 times that of the pot to nullify the issur. In modern times, however, metal pots (except for cast iron) are made by forging a flat metal sheet into the desired shape. They have a smooth surface and are free of cracks. They do not absorb anything throughout their volume. This is particularly noticeable with stainless steel pots whose surface normally remains shiny and new looking even after long use (except for baked-on matter) – without the need for abrasive scouring (aluminum pots can develop pits due to acidic foods).

  27. william gewirtz

    There are also examples where technological innovations, advances in science, new notational/conceptual constructs and even modified modes of expression introduce new language into the halakhic literature. Clocks, datelines, depression angles, sea-level, large/medium/small stars, etc. receive uneven treatment. Both enthusiastic adoption (clocks/datelines/sea-level) and skepticism (depression angles/medium star) need to be carefully evaluated.

  28. R’ Clark: Exactly! So even with three meals on Shabbat, they ate only fourteen meals a week.

    “Water Closet.”

  29. Starter for 10: Physical circumstances that are hidden by language (and relevant to halacha) include books, home utensils, clothing, beds, homes/houses, water supply, sanitation, work tools (including animal power, if used), objects related to entertainment and/or vice (e.g. kubbia).

  30. MiMedinat HaYam

    in no order:

    having run several metal working plants (and purchasing, etc duties): all metals are “porous” to a substantial degree. but i agree with your analysis, and its halachic implications, anyway.

    and besides, its not so much the absorbing of the treif (or milk / meat) food particles, but the absorbtion of the taste (whatever that means)

    seudat shilishit (at some points in history) was before mincha.

    of course, the whole subject of meals in halacha, and the concepts of snacks, dessert, cakes, flavorings for breads (which makes them cakes), etc changed substantially over time. (most of these flavorings; chocolate, for example, did not exist till 1847) just not in halachic time. (or at least not litvish / yeshivish time, which controls our halachic system today.)

    fish was (relatively) rare in europe, so (perhaps) it was too rare to be considered “simcha”. (except the local fish of carp or whatever it was, which they probably were distgusted by. (wait — thats in this week’s parsha.) ditto (better) fruits.

    as for tearing “sfarim” — i note the tendency to roll glillah till the “tfar” which halachically only applies to deer skin sifrei torah. today, i havent seen any deerskin. all are gvil which are cow skin. (to see deer skin, go to the nypublic library on 42nd st, and see their guttenberg bible, which was printed on deer skin. its beautiful (suggested post — permissibility of viewing such an exhibit.)

  31. There are also things that are not physical themselves, bt rely on physical means: e.g. music and musical instruments (e.g. this week’s posted news article on Rethinking Music Making: A Teshuvah for the Conservative Movement)

  32. Another consideration that is a whole topic in itself is the industrialization and globalization of the food supply. The concepts are so modern, there is no expression for it in classical halachic language — and yet it has had huge ramifications.

    We can pretend that we do the same thing just at a much higher frequency (e.g. shechting), but that is patently false if one scratches the surface of reality.

  33. R’IH,
    How about the concept of a corporation?

  34. Interesting. If I understand what you mean, that would be the inverse: the transformation of a physical entity, human beings, into a virtual corporation through the use of language.

    I would think this has been researched in mishpat ivri studies, but it is beyond my ken. R. Cohen?

  35. Er, sorry, R. Clark?

  36. Here’s are some examples of definitions I think have changed over time, and perhaps halachos have changed as well:
    Am ha-aretz.
    Ruach ra.
    And here’s one that where the definition may not have changed, but the halacha surely has:
    “We do not light the Shabbos lamp with sha’avah, wax.” — said every Friday night.

  37. How about the halachic discussions related to ‘p’ru u’revu’ and ‘la’erev al tanakh yadekha’, whic were formutlated in a totally different era, in which a) a high level of fertility was necessary merely to keep the population level constant, due to high mortality levels b) the world’s population was many times of magnitude smaller & c) the role and view of women was totally different (eg see Menachem Kellner’s, “The Hatred of Women in Medieval Jewish Philosophy” regarding some of the authorities quoted in the halachic discussions on this issue)?

  38. Does anyone have the link to the discussion Abba’s Rantings referenced about ebooks on shabbos? (I think that R. Clark’s answer to his comment re: Kindle screens actually strengthened Abba’s point, since the fact that each microcapsule becomes a physically black object when negatively charged implies the image is actually “there,” formed of these black particles, unlike most screens which use projected light to form images.)

  39. Also:
    Nachri – I guess that in the past, you could guarantee that your non-Jewish neighbor was an idol worshipper. But not so nowadays.

  40. Pirke Avos says, “Love work, hate the RABBANUT…”
    I think the definition of rabbanut has changed, but I suspect that some mischievous readers of torahmusings will say “no it has not”!!
    Not sure how halacha-related this example is.

  41. Dr. Gewirtz’s comment about time and timekeeping is instructive. Here the language has changed dramatically and we moderns spend a lot of time trying to translate Talmudic terminology, which is generally based on descriptions of natural phenomena, into hours and minutes on a 24-hour clock. It is fair to assume that Hazal saw the transition from one time period to another as more gradual; so Bein ha-Shemashot — which is an ambiguous period by definition — typifies Hazal’s sense of time.

    Musical instruments have changed, but we are still using instruments that are very similar to those described by Hazal, see e.g. the list in Kinim 3:6.

    Food is a vast topic and not one I can speak about knowledgeably. Those who want to know more about food in the time of Hazal should look at the work of food historian Susan Weingarten of Tel Aviv University. Also as eating habits change, what does a term like Keviat seuda mean?

    Corporations — There is literature on the subject. Michael Broyde co-wrote an article on the subject which may be available on the web (or from him by request). In hazal we see certain groups as having a legal identity, such as “benei ha-ir” but posekim generally have rejected the notion of corporate limited liability or using a corporation to circumvent the laws of ribit or hametz on Pesah.

    Am ha-Aretz — there is a clear difference in meaning between the phrase as it appears in Tanakh and in Hazal. Also, some claim that the term is less perjorative in the Mishna and Yerushalmi than in the Bavli.

    Ru’ah ra — I don’t know what this originally meant, so it is hard for me to say if the meaning has changed.

    I think that procreation (without use of technology) is one of the things that has not changed at all since Adam and Hava.

    Sha’ava is an excellent example. In the time of Hazal wax was a by product of honey and burned poorly. Our candles are made of paraffin and burn cleanly. There is therefore no concern that you would ned to adjust the wick.

    Nochri. See the beginning of Gemara Avoda Zara. Tosafot there suggest that the Christian of Northern Europe were not idolators in the Talmudic sense.

  42. R. Clark – Although the mechanics of reproduction have remained the same, the function of procreation, the implications of and motivations for having a given number of children have shifted entirely. Hence the dissonance between secular and religious fertility levels being a product of the modern era. For more details see, Eric Kaufmann’s ‘Shall the religious inherit the earth?’

  43. Anon:

    Kaufman’s thesis has its merits, but as with all generalizations, he tends to lump a lot of different trends into one. In any case, within the Jewish community there has always been a religious mandate to procreate, as well as an emphasis on going beyond the minimum in fulfillment of the verse “lo tohu bera’ah, la-shevet yatzrah”. And many Jews, even outside the Orthodox world, feel a greater responsibility to procreate in the post-Holocaust era.

  44. WK:When an old high school friend heard of my new Jewish observance, he commented that I was taking the easy way out, relying upon the ‘crutch’ of religion. But for me the Jewish tradition does not provide answers, but unexpected resources to help refine the questions I ask.

    channeling R’YBS?

  45. sorry-wrong thread

  46. R. Clark – I think the main reason for going beyond the minimum is due to ‘la’erev al tanakh yadecha’ rather than ‘la’sheves yetzarah’, which does not necessarily mandate having many children, and according to many opinions is fulfilled with by having one child. To quote R. Aharon Lichtenstein, as summarized in the notes on his shiur on this topic to be found on the VBM website :

    “When it comes to the mitzva of shevet, we could perhaps take into account the current state of the world. During the time of Adam, the world was desolate, and he bore the obligation to populate. When, however, the earth becomes filled to capacity, it stands to reason that the mitzva of shevet would not apply. The mitzva of peru u-revu, by contrast, would remain in force regardless of the current state of the world population”.

    The scope of ‘la’erev’ and the degree to which it is a chiyyuv is the subject of much debate, as has been discussed here previously.

  47. william gewirtz

    Rabbi Clark, your point is a very important one. Is something reflective of uncertainty or perhaps it represents an intrinsically ambiguous period. This has obvious halakhic implications. RDTH ztl considered misheyakir as the former; many consider bein hashemashot as the latter.

  48. R’WG is channeling R’YBS who held bein hashmashot is an intrinsically ambiguous period


  49. “Musical instruments have changed, but we are still using instruments that are very similar to those described by Hazal, see e.g. the list in Kinim 3:6.”

    Your reference is about a small set of instruments whose design was based on animal anatomy and there has also been archeological evidence. But waving your hand to say they are very similar (unsaid: and, therefore, there are no halachic ramifications) is risible.

    In any case, you seem to have just ignored home utensils, clothing, beds, homes/houses, water supply, sanitation, work tools (including animal power, if used), objects related to entertainment and/or vice (e.g. kubbia). And man-made energy.

  50. Shabbos gave me some time to think of a couple more examples.
    How about:
    Medicine — think: grinding on Shabbos
    Music — Concerning music, I’d like to take a different angle than IH. Unlike in the ancient past, music can be listened to via radio, not just live. This fact perhaps affects the rules of kol isha.

  51. Okay, let discuss music. To my knowledge there are only two halakhic issues relating to music: Avelut (including avelut for the Hurban, Sefira and Bein Ha-Metzarim) and Shabbat. I note in passing that the Bavli prohibits making music on Shabbat because of tikkun keli, but the Yerushalmi views music making as a melakha.

    Halakha takes a fairly restrictive view of music. The Rambam basically prohibits it in any form. The Mehaber is more lenient, although he limits his heter to music that has a positive religious impact. Secular music is not wildly popular in halakhic literature, but there is anecdotal evidence of W. European Rabbanim who attended concerts and operas in the 19th century.

    As for music today: I am neither a musicologist nor a music historian. In my house I have the following instruments (possibly there are more): pianoforte, saxophone, clarinet, recorder, darbuka, dulcimer, trumpet, keyboard and theremin. All of these, with the exception of the last two, make music exactly the way instruments made music in the time of Hazal — by blowing air through a tube or percussive motion. So I think that, by quantitative measures, there is more continuity than discontinuity with the past in the area of music-making. The electronic instruments raise all the regular Shabbat issues, plus additional ones relating to use of electricity.

    The Mishna in Sukka describes a procession through the Ezrat Nashim accompanied by musical instruments. In 2011 we still do parades and processionals to music.

    We still play music at weddings and other celebrations (=beit mishteh).

    I submit that the closest equivalent in Hazal’s day to a rock concert attended by 250,000 people was the “circuses” that Hazal so disdained.

    Were there chamber music recitals or operas or orchestral concerts in Roman Palestine? I doubt it. But I fail to find halakhic significance in this fact.

    19th century posekim have not left a lot of room for the introduction of music into Shabbat services, even if played by a Gentile. But you can find a few shuls in Jerusalem where Hallel on Yom HaAtzmaut is accompanied by musical instruments.

    I think Phil’s point regarding radio (or recorded music) is apt in connection with avelut issues — such music which clearly does not have the same importance or socio-cultural meaning as live music. And some halakhic authorities take a mor elenient stance on listening to recorded music during sefira, for example.

  52. MiMedinat HaYam

    “but there is anecdotal evidence of W. European Rabbanim who attended concerts and operas in the 19th century.”

    there are clear statements in halacha regarding chazzanim who went to the opera to catch the latest music to add to their RH / YK repetoire. some comments approving, some disapproving. but none specfically banning the practice and / or the music (a la IM on RSCarlebach).

    (of course, almost all our RH / YK tunes (regarded as halachically sacrosant — forbidden to change (even theough we supposedly dont know the origins) are clearly copied from “secular music” trends. (many / mostly plain old drinking songs — try “ein kitzva” till “keter” on RH / YK musaph after “une’taneh tokef”.)

    2. other halachot derived from talmudic norms, “chatiztzot” in “tevilah” that contradic today’s halachic (and medical) norms — eg, hair on the body, bandages, scabs (do they really require women to remove them? halachic works say yes, but is that the practice?), nails and nail polish, long hair.

    (and that famous claim in elementasry school — long hair is a chatzitzah in tfillin shel rosh.)

  53. My ideas are coming in small trickles…
    How about Maror?
    How about glass? (Think: toiveling Pyrex)

  54. I believe in the context of shabbat a “tanur” is a good example. The mishna (Shabbat 38b) rules that since a tanur has such strong heat it is impermissible to heat up food on it even if it was fully cooked beforehand (the Rishonim give various explanations as to the nature of the chashash in this case of “shema yechateh”). Without going into the whole process, the Rama brings down (S.A. 1) “והתנורים שלנו דינם ככירה” (Ran etc.). Here we see a clear example of how the same word referred to different things and was related to differently by the authorities.

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